Just a few more passages from Diary of Andrés Fava, which—like any book by Cortázar—is a strange and wonderful reading experience. The first passage demonstrates qualities I love about this writer: a profound, clear-eyed sympathy for even “unimportant” creatures combined with a classical devotion to the truth of any situation. Any writer, in prose or verse, would do well to study the way he shapes these seven sentences….
I was arriving in Chacarita to catch the subway when I saw a little white dog die. The car swerved with its front wheels but caught him with one of the others. In that sounds (in which the bare event occurs with such a pure oneiric quality that people say: “It seemed like a dream”) the elements of what happened dissociated strangely. The sight and sound reached me separately, like apprehensions that weren’t linked. The sound was like a ball banging hard against a wall, a loud, sharp plop; the sight was a prodigious ralenti: the dog was on his side, with two paws up in the air and his mouth open for a bark he didn’t manage to voice. Slowly (this was unending) he was twisting until he rested on his side on the ground. I think he was dead from the start, although he still had organic life for a while; his inexpressiveness proved it, that slow movement that was just the effect of gravity, a remainder of the crash taking its time through his body.
Photo courtesy of listal.com
I already suspected, as a boy, that naming something was to make it mine. That wasn’t enough, though, I always needed to periodically change the names of those around me, because that way I was rejecting conformity, the slow substitution of a being by a name. One day I would begin to feel that the name wasn’t going well anymore, it was no longer the thing it named. The thing was there, shiny and new, but the name had worn out like a suit. By giving it a new denomination, I obscurely proved to myself that what mattered was the other thing, that reason for my name. And for weeks the thing or the animal or the person would appear beautiful to me beneath the light of its new sign.
The opposite of reality is reality.
[A] little while ago, coming down the courthouse steps into Plaza Lavalle, I suddenly felt that I had already died. I don’t believe in immortality,and I really regret it (a bit like I regret that Claudel nauseates me, or that suits are expensive); but out of the blue I’m hit by the certainty that, in some shape, in some state, I have already passed through death.
An analogous state could be the remote basis for the belief in immortality. Today it’s not so easy to accept and ride out the consequences; I believe in the state, in the authenticity of my experience (which here includes both sense of the word); but I cannot faithfully go on to infer a conviction. I only know that I have died before; nothing more. What guarantee do I have for the future? Maybe one revives twice, or twenty-eight times. Perhaps I’m no my last life. What right do I have to postulate immortality when the only thing I know is that I’m coming from one death?
For a most moving glimpse into Cortázar’s last days, read this Paris Review interview. His story about the boy who recognizes him on the street in Barcelona and offers him a bite of cake is both moving and emblematic of his relationship with his audience.